What’s Your Mission?

Make your mission statement work for you

Denise Schares

School boards, administrative teams, and community members across the nation are working to develop district missions that reflect the overall purpose of the district. These mission statements are intended to describe what the district does, for whom it does it and the benefit the district provides to those it serves. They answer the question, “Why do we exist?” and tell the world who the district is and how it goes about the work of educating students.

The mission statement provides the criteria for evaluating decisions and can serve as a compass in difficult times. Ideally, student success is the heart of a school district’s mission statement. It is most effectively used when posted in the board room and referred to as a routine part of board business in supporting the focus on student achievement.

When reviewing existing mission statements, common themes emerge as districts and schools strive to develop and implement mission statements that capture the critical work of their district and/or building. This article provides a comparison of the most frequently cited words in a mission statement by district size, location, and socioeconomic status in one Midwestern state. This work serves as a resource as districts work to draft, revise and, most importantly, implement their district mission statement.

A starting point
School boards across the country strive to capture the essence of their work through a district mission statement. Not only do the statements represent collaborative work of a variety of stakeholders but they also can serve to guide the work and decision-making of district leaders.

As districts strive to develop clear, concise, and compelling mission statements, the review of existing mission statements can provide a starting point for the work. The examination of commonalities and differences in mission statements by district size, location and socioeconomic status can provide insight to the concepts that serve as essential elements of the work of the district

The data examined was gathered during the 2014-15 school year in a rural Midwestern state for each of the 335 school districts in the state. Mission statements were accessed through the district websites. Demographic data was accessed from the Department of Education district statistics document.

Mission statements were analyzed for frequency of word use considering the districts by enrollment size, socioeconomic status, and geographic location determined by Area Education Agency regions. The length of the district mission statements ranged from three to 100 words and the examples evidence the variety of sentence structures utilized.

Example mission statements include:

  • Building tomorrow today
  • Each and every K-12 student will be taught the essential concepts and skill sets identified in the Core Curriculum for life in the 21st century. Each K-12 educator will embed the essential concepts and skill sets in rigorous and relevant instruction informed by ongoing formative assessments. Each and every instructional leader will support and ensure an aligned system of curriculum, instruction and assessment focused on the Core Curriculum essential concepts and skill sets. The Department of Education, AEA, School District, parents, community, business leaders and students will work together to provide the necessary systems of support for each student’s success.
  • Preparing students to compete in an ever-changing world.
  •  Providing a learning environment for educational excellence and motivation to continue a lifetime of learning.
  • Inspiring and challenging students through diverse opportunities.
  • Empower individuals with skills and attitudes necessary to become contributing citizens and life-long learners.
  • To develop 21st century learners and productive, responsible citizens
  • Preparing each student to live as a productive, knowledgeable, confident, healthy, responsible citizen of the world.
  • A caring educational organization that strives to meet the needs of every student, and provides an environment in which students and employees can achieve their maximum potential.
  • Provide a quality education for all by considering cultures, learning styles, and individual abilities in a safe, nurturing environment.
  • Committed to creating a student-centered environment where individual needs are addressed, cooperation and teamwork are valued, competent professionals lead, community partnerships flourish, a commitment to excellence prevails, and lifelong learning continues.
  •  Working in partnership with each family and the community, it is the mission of the district to educate responsible, lifelong learners so that each student possesses the skills, knowledge, creativity, sense of self-worth and values necessary to thrive in and contribute to a diverse and changing world.
  • Empowering students to be life-long learners and caring, responsible citizens
  • Our mission is to enable us to reach our greatest potential intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically, thus becoming unique, life-long learners.
  • Learning and Success for All
  • Through Our Collective Efforts, We Are Committed to Teaching and Learning for All.
  • To assist every student in acquiring skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to become effective students, responsible citizens, productive workers, and lifelong learners in a global society.
  • Creating healthy, educated, ethical and productive citizens.

Common words
The analysis of the mission statements resulted in interesting findings that can provide insight to districts engaging in the work of writing or revising their district mission statement. The most commonly cited words for all districts were community, school, district, and students followed by mission, learning, and learners. This is not surprising since most mission statements began with an opening sentence including the frequently cited words.

In considering the next group of frequently cited words, citizens, environment, productive and responsible emerged followed by life-long, become, and society. The next group of words cited by frequency included education, knowledge, potential, quality, skills, and world.

When reviewing the similarities and differences by school size, it is interesting to note that the smallest districts more frequently included the words environment, productive, provide educational opportunities and skills. The words world and global were more frequently cited in large districts.

Comparison by socio-economic status also resulted in interesting differences. The highest socio-economic districts, determined by percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch, more frequently included the words environment, productive, develop, partnership and safe. The lowest socio-economic districts included the words committed, excellence and opportunities more frequently.

The location of the district aligned with the use of certain words more frequently and may reflect the support personnel that the districts used as they developed mission statements and compared their district mission statements to neighboring districts. The word productive was more common in the Northwest portion of the state.

Learning and caring were frequently cited in the Central portion of the state. The words family, necessary and challenging were included more frequently in the Southern portion of the state. The word diverse was used frequently in only one region of the state, which has experienced an increase in diversity in recent years. Also noted by region of the state is the inclusion of the words quality, ever-changing, and contributing.

In an attempt to compose a mission statement that most closely reflects the collective statements of the state, the following is offered as an example.

“The mission of the ABC Community School District is to provide students with the environment and skills to become productive citizens, responsible community members and learners in a global society.”

The least frequently cited words -- succeed, character, respect, dedicated, future, challenges, social, ensure, create and resources -- may be the concepts that provide uniqueness to individual district mission statements.

Denise Schares ( an assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

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